Put your best foot forward

Who needs faces, when Kelly Sant has painted a series of portraits focusing on feet? asks Janet Fitch

‘I love these shoes, ‘cos when I put them on they make my boobs feel bigger.’ For women who love shoes, this comment by Jodi Mullen, an assistant to designer Tord Boontje, makes perfect sense. For artist and designer Kelly Sant, it is sentiments such as this that inspired her recent paintings of the feet of 21 women wearing their favourite shoes.

Sant starts with a photoshoot of feet in shoes, after what can be the hardest task – deciding which pair of shoes are the absolute favourites. The ensuing paintings are remarkably expressive of different characters, leading you to wonder what the women wearing the shoes actually look like. Sant says she wanted to see if she could capture the essence of someone in a pair of shoes, seeing the paintings as a form of portraiture.

The feet belong to designers, architects, fashion designers, curators and journalists, who all testify to the sexual allure of their Manolos or Jimmys. Most of the shoes chosen are perilously high and reveal lipsmackingly painted toenails, but the flat shoes are interesting too. You have to love the spotty flat pink shoes made by Arche and worn by Grechen Andersen, owner of The Lacquer Chest antique shop in London, or sculptor Annie Attridge’s scruffy but moody studio shoes, which seem to sum up her work.

Sant herself is in love with the towering wedges of Terry de Havilland – his wife Liz models his shoes in one of the paintings. Particularly fascinating was shoe designer Marloes Tenbhömer’s no-heel shoe, a cross between a clog and a ballet shoe, which seems to defy gravity.

You can visit Soles Exposed at Adam Street Gallery, 9 Adam Street, London WC2N by appointment on 020 7379 8000 until 29 January

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